Natsuki Mari, Katori Shingo, Fukada Kyoko, Ogura Yuko, Miura Rieko, Nomoto Karia, Negicco, etc. Konishi Yasuharu is a musician known for having produced or contributed songs to all of the aforementioned artists and more. While the only song he arranged for Hello! Project was Matsuura Aya’s “Ne~e?“, it’s a song that continues to pop up in conversation even today when talking about some of the best songs to have ever come out of Hello! Project as a whole. It was a question on everyone’s minds at the time of the song’s release: “What? Konishi Yasuharu?! How? Huh?“
— Please tell us about when you arranged Matsuura Aya’s “Ne~e?” What led to you working on it?
Konishi: They simply approached my office with an offer. “Please let your guy arrange our song.” Naturally, I said “okay.” Until that point I’d pretty much just met Tsunku♂ a couple of times while we were doing Pop Jam on NHK, back in the Sharan Q days. I didn’t really know him that well, to be honest, and I’m pretty sure he’d only just heard of the name Pizzicato Five up until that point.
— So they approached you pretty much out of the blue.
Konishi: Yeah. And that’s why I first just went, “but why me of all people?” They were like, “well, we want something that sounds French — aren’t you the guy to go to when it comes to French-sounding stuff?” (laughs) Their offer was very specific, so it was easy for me to get on-board, too. “Ah, okay. Gotcha.“
— Today we’d like to ask you to name and discuss your favorite Hello! Project album songs.
Yoshida: Are you going to include in this book information about the Kamome Jidou Gasshoukan album that Nacchi was featured on? (Note: Abe Natsumi appeared as a guest on their album Yaita Sakana no Bangohan on the track “beautiful.”)
— Seeing as she only had a guest appearance on that one, it’ll probably just appear as a column later.
Yoshida: That really ought to be in this book. It was a collaboration with Kamome Jidou Gasshoukan, which means there is now a direct link between Hello! Project and Sakamoto Shintaro (who released the song “Anata mo Robot ni Nareru feat. Kamome Jidou Gasshoukan.”)
— I see that you’re immediately going to begin this feature with a curveball… (laughs)
Naka G: Alright! Listen, guys! I want us to talk about Berryz Koubou!
Yoshida: Yes, I was prepared for that eventuality, what with it being you and Minewaki in the room with me…
Beginning with Tanpopo’s “Koi wo Shichaimashita!,” Watanabe Cher has since gone on to arrange songs like Matsuura Aya’s “Tropica~l Koishite~ru” and “LOVE Namidairo,” Fujimoto Miki’s “Sotto Kuchizukete Gyutto Dakishimete” and Minimoni’s “Himihamuzu no Ai no Uta,” among others. Originally known by the name of WATA-BOO, the keyboard player in DANCE☆MAN’s band — where he played a large role in his arrangements as well — he went on to becoming an accomplished Hello! Project arranger in his own right. What has this masterful musician learned after having had a hand in such a lengthy succession of important works for Hello! Project?
— The first song you arranged by yourself was Tanpopo’s “Koi wo Shichaimashita!,” right?
Watanabe: Right. That was a bit over a year after I first became involved with Hello! Project — right around the time “Renai Revolution 21” had just been released. Hashimoto Shin called me up and asked “would you like to do Tanpopo’s next single for us?” I was going, “you’re going to let me arrange a song for a group that’s selling like crazy right now?” I loved the sound of “Otome Pasta ni Kandou” and so I was thinking “oh no, they’re going to make me go after Nagai Rui…” I remember feeling quite under pressure because of that.
— The group’s lineup and image had changed quite drastically with their previous single. Did they tell you that they wanted to keep it pretty much similar to that style with the next song?
Watanabe: They just told me they wanted something 60’s-like. No… actually, the first thing they said was that they wanted something Motown-like. Like, “Otome Pasta was British… so let’s go to America with this one!” It’s not like that genre was my strong suit or anything, but more than having that actually be the foundation for the whole song, I figured they’d asked for me just because of the stuff I’d done in the past — like the strings in “Renai Revolution 21” for example. So that’s the kind of thing I tried to give them.
Tanaka Nao is known for his numerous arrangement works incorporating the trends and mannerisms of American R&B, including Minimoni’s “CRAZY ABOUT YOU,” Goto Maki’s “SOME BOYS! TOUCH,” Morning Musume’s “It’s You” and High-King’s “Destiny Love.” We talked to him about his career thus far — which also includes some more eccentric works such as °C-ute’s 4/4 disco tune “Disco Queen,” Berryz Koubou’s very Japanese-styled “Kacchoee!” and Michishige Sayumi’s “Shabadabadoo~.”
— I want to begin by asking you about the origins of your career in music.
Tanaka: I was already doing piano in kindergarten — but only learning how to play it. I became interested in actually listening to music only when I came to like SOUTHERN ALL-STARS and one day realizing I could cover their songs on the piano. This was back when I was in junior high school. I also started playing the guitar around then. In high school, the popular stuff everyone was listening to were bands like BACK DROP BOMB, KEMURI and SCAFULL KING, and so I formed one of those sorts of “mixture rock” bands similar to them.
— I feel like R&B is one of the cornerstones of your arrangements, so I’m surprised to hear you were in fact previously playing in mixture rock bands — of all things.
Tanaka: Well, see, through playing in those bands, I realized that what appealed to me most were the riffs. The riffs were cool. Then I also started listening to hip hop and R&B with similarly strong riffs. The first thing that blew my mind was Noreaga’s “Superthug,” produced by The Neptunes. The whole song consists entirely of rapping, the drums, and a clavinet — nothing else. I was going “what the hell is this?!” (laughs) Around those days, there were quite a lot of producers like the Neptunes or Timbaland whose material was a bit “out there.” So I figured, if it was okay for them to do that kind of sound and have a battle of ideas like that, then maybe I could give it a shot, too. That’s when I started track making myself.
Having arranged over 60 songs for Hello! Project, including the likes of Melon Kinenbi’s “Akai Freesia” and “Nikutai wa Shoujiki na EROS,” Berryz Koubou’s “Jiriri Kiteru” and “Munasawagi Scarlet,” °C-ute’s “Aitai Lonely Christmas,” as well as Aa’s! “FIRST KISS” and “Masayume,” Yuasa Koichi is one of the “bread-and-butter arrangers” of Hello! Project. Having originally debuted as a member of band Twenty-four, he went on to becoming a touring member for Shiina Hekiru before finding himself involved with Hello! Project. Through this interview, we learn a little bit about how he’s able to do what he does best with his arrangements: pulling off multiple things simultaneously while blending those various, conflicting elements in a clever way — and how delicate it can be to maintain that balance.
— The first Hello! Project song you worked on was Melon KInenbi’s “Akai Freesia,” wasn’t it?
Yuasa: That’s the first song that had my name in the credits, but I’d actually been helping around quite a bit before that.
— Is that right?
Yuasa: Yes. Guitarist Ubukata Shindo, who played with me in this band called Twenty-four, had been working for Tsunku♂ as an engineer on a bunch of Hello! Project and other Tsunku♂-produced songs. He was starting to get busier, and that’s when he asked me to help out. At first, the two of us worked together as a unit (by the name of 23’s) on song arrangements, chorus arrangements, and even project assistant duties. We did quite a bit of work together. Rather than being outside arrangers per se, our job description was more like being assistants to Tsunku♂.
— Could you begin by talking about your personal favorite Hello! Project albums?
Tsurugi: I like Matsuura Aya’s First KISS and x3. Her first album is often called a masterpiece by fans. There was something about Matsuura back then that you can only hear on that album. Idols sometimes tend to “de-idolize” — for Matsuura, that change into “singer” came rather quickly. Her debut was the only album where she was purely an “idol,” but even on that release there was already a mix of both youthfulness and maturity. She had the technical skill that made her seem like the complete package, but she also had that youth and that idol-ness about her. And that expressiveness… the variation she showed on each and every song. I don’t think that album has much of the so-called “Hello! Project flavor” on it. It just maintains a fantastic balance throughout. She’s never going to make an album like that again. With that said, I also like her third album a lot.
— That one’s great, but in a different way from the first album, right?
Tsurugi: She showed so much growth. I actually prefer the album tracks on that release more than the singles. In short, it just has so many songs I like. Back then, whenever Matsuura was releasing a new song I was always both nervous and excited, and so to suddenly receive an album with this many songs I loved… You know what I mean?
Oomori: Matsuura’s singing always really stands out, so when she puts out an album, they’ll have those those certainsongs on there that can be a touch weaker in the sound department — you know, the not-as-serious “album tracks.” And it’s actually those songs that I tend to prefer from Matsuura.
Namba: Seeing as this book is about the albums of Hello! Project, we’ve each been asked to list five of our favorite Hello! Project album songs.
Koide: I must begin by saying that out of all Hello! Project albums, past or present, Berryz Koubou’s first album might be the best one out of any of them. I’m afraid that might be the case.
Hyadain: You’re afraid? (laughs)
Koide: Berryz Koubou’s 1st Chou Berryz and Dai ② Seichouki might be the best of them all — conceptually as well as in terms of their degree of perfection. Like, if you were to look at specific songs here and there, it’s not like there’s not a single track on there that’s not a bit… you know? (laughs) But they both have overarching stories and the songs all serve a meaning. Both releases stand on their merits as concept albums. When you listen to H!P releases with that mindset, there are actually a couple of other conceptual albums like that as well. v-u-den’s Suite Room No.1 comes to mind — that’s a good one to listen to in order.
Hyadain: Hmm. I’ve never done that.
Koide: v-u-den only released that one original album which means it has all their singles up until that point. That’s the main draw for most people. But the concept is that it’s a “hotel” — the album actually begins with the group checking-in.
“Is there anyone you personally respect?”
Tsunku♂: Well, my parents — naturally.
But as for someone I admire?
“Positive Hon — Pucchi Seikou e no Chikamichi” (2005)
Henkka: The Beatles are, without a doubt, my favorite band. If someone asked me why I like the music of Tsunku♂, my answer would be along the lines of “well… because I like The Beatles.” Some people might not understand what I mean by that. But if they didn’t, I would assume they don’t hear the music of The Beatles or the music of Hello! Project in the same way as I do.
There are endless of nods to The Beatles in the music of Hello! Project. There are so many callbacks to their sounds, melodies, chord progressions, recording techniques, and even direct allusions to their song titles, if you didn’t notice them you’d have to be intentionally trying not to.
I would make the case that, regardless of whether you care much for The Beatles or not, their music is unquestionably linked with the musical output and outlook of Tsunku♂, including all of the works he has produced for Hello! Project throughout the years.
Thus, here are some translated texts of Tsunku♂ talking about perhaps the biggest musical influence on Hello! Project and his work in general: The Beatles.